I finally got around to watching the first episode of the new race-based Survivor: Cook Islands. It’s hard to tell in the initial episode of a reality show how it’s going to go and who the “characters” will be, but I can already spot a few things.
I thought it was interesting, but not surprising, that the members of Hispanic team (Aitu) and the African-American team (Hiki) when interviewed both were really happy about the teams being separated along ethnic lines and they felt this made their team “the strongest.” They both felt they had to “represent” and show the other teams (and presumably America) how well they could compete. The white team felt no such pressure, and it fact, it would’ve sounded bizarre if they’d expressed the same sentiment.
Only one member of the Asian team (Puka) felt that they as Asians had something to prove. I can already see a schism on that team. The member expressing that sentiment, Cao Boi (“Cowboy”), is a self-proclaimed “boat person” from Viet Nam, and he’s one of the older contestants. The other members of the Puka tribe seem to be mildly embarrassed by him. They are younger, better educated, and he views them as “Americanized.” In an interesting segment, Cao Boi “cured” Brad of a headache by removing a “bad wind” from his head in a way the show played up to look mystical. Brad and the others were politely amazed that it worked, but they came off as weirded out by Cao Boi, which blows away the Asian stereotype of respect for elders.
There wasn’t much focus on the white or Hispanic team in this episode, save for a tiff over losing some chickens in the former tribe and a tiff over the correct way to build a shelter in the latter. The African-American team had the spotlight on them because they managed to blow the first challenge of the game and had to go to tribal council and vote off a member. Sekou emerged as the leader of the Hiki tribe on day one, and if you watch the show you know that leaders are often taken out early before they can become too powerful. The Hiki tribe conformed to at least one stereotype – they split along gender lines. When Jeff Probst, the show’s host, gave the losing tribe the right to name a member of another tribe to be sent to “Exile Island” as a penalty, Sekou and Nate unilaterally decided to punish Jonathan on the white tribe and didn’t ask their three female teammates for their opinion. When Jeff pointed this out to the women (which embarrassed them), it was guaranteed that one of the men was going to get booted. Though Sekou said the women would be stupid to get rid of them (I agree), Nate cautioned that the women “don’t think they need a man, they think they can do it on their own.” They knew one of them was going, and it was Sekou.
The choice of Jonathan as the one to be sent to Exile Island bears noting. Before the challenge, Yul from the Asian team pointed out that Jonathan had absconded with one of the chickens Yul had secured from the boat that brought the contestants to the game site. Nate and Sekou, rather than choosing a physically strong member of another tribe to send away, took on the role of enforcers and made it clear that they were penalizing Jonathan for his behavior. Needless to say, Jonathan was pissed. We’ll see how that plays out. It may be a moot point, since if the Hiki tribe loses again, the women will likely boot Nate.
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